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Best of Clare Fitzgerald

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Mohegan Sun pulls out all the stops for 20th Anniversary

17 October 2016

Todd English, Chef Sean and spinach pasta.

Todd English, Chef Sean and spinach pasta. (photo by Lyndsay Calusine)

(UNCASVILLE, CT) – Mohegan Sun celebrated its 20th Anniversary this weekend with a packed schedule of celebrity appearances, parties, concerts and food.

Twenty years ago, on October 12, 1996, Mohegan Sun opened the doors to its Casino of the Earth, now just one of the three gaming floors that serve as the anchor points of the giant resort complex nestled in the woods of southeastern Connecticut. Its Sky Tower hotel juts out from the treeline like a mirrored blue crystal, reflecting the New England fall foliage around it. The newly constructed Earth Tower hotel, which is slated to open later this fall and is already taking reservations for the holiday season, follows the same aesthetic, preparing to take on the spillover from the half a million hotel nights per year that the Sky Tower has been turning away.

Inside, in the shopping concourse, a display case shows photos of the older iterations of the casino, along with memorabilia from earlier anniversaries.

The younger of Connecticut's two Indian gaming resorts, Mohegan Sun has promotions, giveaways and special events running the whole month of October.

The cake was not a lie

While the Red Carpet Afterparty headlined most of the advertising for the monthlong celebration, the most important part of any birthday celebration is, of course, cake. Casino City was on hand at 3 p.m. on the dot on Saturday, 15 October at the Taughannick Falls indoor waterfall in the shopping concourse, where Mauro and Maddelena Castano and Mary Sciarrone of Carlo's Bake Shop — the Hoboken-based home of Cake Boss, which has a location at Mohegan Sun — presented Mohegan Sun's corporate management with an impressive full-sheet cake replica of the casino itself.

"There's a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new Mohegan Sun," Mauro said, pointing out the cake version of the newly constructed Earth Tower.

What's a celebration without cake?

What's a celebration without cake? (photo by Lyndsay Calusine)

The cake presentation was not a drawn-out affair. Mohegan Sun CFO Kevin Lowry, CMO David Martinelli, Assistant General Manager Jeffrey Hamilton, and President and General Manager Ray Pineault were all briefly introduced, then the Castanos and Sciarrone. Pineault made some brief remarks thanking Carlo's Bakery and thanking the guests for coming out to celebrate.

Pineault also did the honors of cutting the cake, but not before the entire crowd of assembled casinogoers was led in an off-key rendition of "Happy Birthday," in true awkward birthday party fashion.

Slices of classic birthday cake — two layers of either yellow or chocolate cake bound together with a simple white Italian buttercream icing — were handed out to the assembled guests and to anyone passing through the shops. Our verdict: The cake was good, but it was the buttercream that really made it.

Sometimes he even puts it in the food

Two hours later, the crowd would reconvene on the bridge between the waterfall and the "River Blue" Chihuly sculpture — this time for a cooking demonstration from Todd English, whose Tuscany restaurant lies just behind the rock façade of the waterfall.

English kicked off the demonstration by awarding a glass of pinot grigio to the first person in the audience to notice that the waterfall had been turned off and advising the rest that "I'm a lot more fun to watch when you're drunk."

This set the tone for the rest of the demonstration, as English cheerily rambled and joked his way through making spinach pasta ("It's like a healthy drink, see," he said, dropping eggs and spinach into a blender), ravioli, meatballs and a truffle sauce. The key ingredient in most of these dishes seemed to be pinot grigio, which English splashed into various pots seemingly at random.

"I love wine in pasta!" he said by way of explanation.

English was assisted in the demonstration by Chef Sean, one of the permanent chefs at Tuscany, and a gentleman he picked out of the audience. Chef Sean oversaw said gentleman and the meatballs while English walked the audience through the intricacies of making egg pasta, interspersing stories about growing up in an Italian-American family and studying with little old ladies in Tuscany with useful cooking advice, such as "You shouldn't be ever wearing black clothes when you're making pasta" (English, of course, was wearing black shirt liberally decorated with flour) and that he likes to make pasta when he's in a bad mood, because it's "very soothing." He then flung a square of pasta dough into the audience so that people could feel that it was "silky, like an Armani or Gucci scarf."

The truffle sauce was made with black truffles, which cost $300 a pound, English explained, grating one mostly into the saucepan but partly onto the floor. White truffles cost around $3,200 a pound, he added, "but those are for the 30th Anniversary."

While the demonstration itself resulted in English and his assistants making about enough food to feed a family of four, a much larger batch of all the demonstrated recipes had been premade, and everyone who attended the demonstration received a sample plate containing exactly two exquisite raviolis and one beef-veal-pork-and-braised-shortrib meatball with truffle sauce. Samples of pinot grigio were not given out.

These were, of course, not the only non-ticketed events hosted in the shops on Saturday. Over the course of the day, the concourse played host to a meet and greet by Vinny Guadagnino and Paola Giaimo of Vinny and Ma Eat America, then another meet and greet by Vikings star Clive Standen. Ralphie Aversa, who was there to host the evening's red carpet event, took the stand during an unoccupied time slot to tell amusing stories about interviewing Justin Beiber.

One of the many talented dancers.

One of the many talented dancers. (photo by Lyndsay Calusine)

Getting the party started

At 8 p.m., the musical acts began.

The evening's headliner act was Fergie, who performed in the Mohegan Sun Arena with special guest Daya. For those who couldn’t snag the $70 tickets, the free show for the night was LL Cool J, who performed in the Wolf Den, the small pit stage in the Casino of the Earth.

The 350-seat Wolf Den is much, much smaller than LL Cool J is popular, however. By 10 after 8, not only was the Wolf Den full, it was ringed by a massive crush of people crowding the gaming floor, cell phones high in the air as they tried to look over the heads of the people in front of them.

The inability of most of the crowd to actually enter the performance space did little to dampen anyone's enthusiasm, except possibly the handful of non-fans trying to play slots in the Casino of the Earth at the time. People shouted, danced and sang along. They filled in the spaces between the banks of slot machines like a game of Tetris.

The main event

All this was just a lead-up to the headliner event of the 20th Anniversary celebrations, the star-studded Red Carpet Afterparty. The guest list included the likes of Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Anna Kendrick, Joe Mangianello and Robin Thicke, who ran a gantlet of press and fans along the red carpet that had been rolled out along the second-floor entrance to the convention center, where the Uncas Ballroom — Mohegan Sun's largest event space — had been lavishly transformed into a nightclub. The front of the house featured a large stage where Timbaland, DJ Cassidy and Jayceeoh provided the soundtrack for the evening. VIP seating lined the edges of the enormous dance floor, placing the celebrities where they could most conveniently be seen. At the back of the house, a sheer-draped elevated stage featured a rotation of dancers, including a belly dancer and an aerialist. Mohegan Sun's house photographers roamed the floor, taking pictures of partygoers dressed to the nines.

Mohegan Sun's 20th Anniversary celebrations continue through 31 October. Upcoming events include a cooking demonstration from Bobby Flay, comedy performances by Dane Cook and Tom Arnold, and a slew of musical guests across genres, such as Sia, Carrie Underwood, Kiss, Air Supply and Chicago with Earth, Wind & Fire.
Clare Fitzgerald

As Casino City's copy editor, Clare diligently proofs articles, columns and press releases posted on the Casino City family of websites, as well as the entire library of print publications produced by Casino City Press. She has editorial experience in several industries, but gaming is the most fun so far. She graduated from Clark University in 2010 with a degree in English and Creative Writing.
Clare Fitzgerald
As Casino City's copy editor, Clare diligently proofs articles, columns and press releases posted on the Casino City family of websites, as well as the entire library of print publications produced by Casino City Press. She has editorial experience in several industries, but gaming is the most fun so far. She graduated from Clark University in 2010 with a degree in English and Creative Writing.